An almost absurd debate has emerged in certain sections of the Indian polity after the elevation of Indian-origin British leader, Rishi Sunak, as the leader of the Conservative Party and British Prime Minister — who can and who cannot aim to become the Prime Minister of India?
It is absurd and largely moot because neither the Indian Constitution, nor our history as an independent nation has ever discriminated against any section of society from aspiring for the highest of political echelons. And the philosophy of Indian reservations, the affirmative action policy applied to our conditions, has been effectively at work to ensure political representation to the most oppressed and discriminated lot.
Specific to politics, reservations for all legislative elections for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have ensured their minimum proportionate representation in every single state Assembly and Parliament. Reservations have been expanded both horizontally and vertically, with the scope enhanced for gender representations, with women now assured of a third of the seats in most local body elections, starting from the gram panchayat level.
India has had, during its history, Presidents and Vice-Presidents elected, who were from religious minorities and oppressed castes, including Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs.
Coming specifically to the post of Prime Minister — while three members of one family having occupied the position for several terms, people from northern, southern and western India have held the post, representing the entire spectrum of politics — centre, right and left of centre — at different points. The two major national parties, as well as an alliance of several regional forces, have decided a Prime Minister.
India hardly has anything to be ashamed of, vis-a-vis England. We, as a nation and continent, have had women holding the highest position in our Central government much before many other democracies worldwide.
Some of the leaders of the Congress Party, who raised the valid issue of political representation of religious minorities, particularly in the context of the BJP having a near-zilch allocation of tickets of Muslims in various elections, should still not have castigated India, with the Congress itself having been led by an Italy-born Catholic for over 24 years and a Sikh Prime Minister for a decade.
Muslims have enjoyed a fair representation of political power in India, with different members of the community having served as President, the highest constitutional office in the country. They have also held high positions in almost all walks of life, from film to sports, the judiciary to bureaucracy, business to arts, and the academia to diplomacy, as well as the media, medicine, law, engineering and finance.
When AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi states he wishes to see a hijab-clad woman become India’s Prime Minister, it is a welcome statement. Nothing stops her. Nothing would stop a non-hijab-wearing Muslim woman from becoming PM either.
Every Indian can aspire to become a Prime Minister and it is the beauty of India’s democracy, Constitution and society that their identity is not held against such an aspiration.